Friday , September 18 2020

Harry, Azkaban, and a Prince Down a Few Quarts

Though I love Harry I am somewhat leery of J.K. Rowling (there’s something unseemly about her tarting up on the way to becoming a billionaire) and certainly don’t have the time or interest in solving some damn riddles on her website in order to get the fresh poop on the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which will be published July 16, 2005 according to a joint announcement from Rowling’s publishers Bloomsbury (UK) and Scholastic (US).

Nigel Newton, Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing in the United Kingdom and Barbara Marcus, President of Scholastic Children’s Books in the United States, said: “We are delighted to announce the publication date. J.K. Rowling has written a brilliant story that will dazzle her fans in a marvellous book that takes the series to yet greater heights. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince delivers all the excitement and wonder of her bestselling Harry Potter novels.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes up the story of Harry Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at this point as “Voldemort’s power and followers are increasing day by day, in the midst of this battle of good and evil.”

The author has already said that the Half-Blood Prince is neither Harry nor Voldemort, but I am unclear as to whether the prince in question is in need of a visit to the blood bank, or if he has all the blood he needs but only half of it is royal.

Talk about putting all your eggs in one dishwater-blonde basket, check out the financial news:

    Shares of UK publisher Bloomsbury surged on the news, up over 8 percent to hit a new high of 296 pence. Scholastic stock rose $1.26, or 3.5 percent, to $37.19 in morning trade on the Nasdaq after touching $37.55, its highest since early 2003.

    Robert Skloff, an analyst at Sidoti & Co. in New York, said he expects the new Harry Potter instalment to add about $195 million to $200 million in additional revenue for Scholastic in its fiscal 2006 year, which begins in June. That compares with about $180 million in Harry Potter sales in fiscal 2004, when the last book was released.

    The fifth book in the series, published after a three-year gap in 2003, made publishing history by selling 5 million copies within 24 hours. More than a quarter of a billion Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide in 60 languages ranging from Gujarati to Ancient Greek.

    The Harry Potter series has brought in billions from book sales, movie tickets and merchandise, and created a booming crossover market for adult-friendly children’s books and movie adaptations. [Reuters]

And speaking of adult-friendly movie adaptations, we picked up the DVD of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban a few weeks ago and it just keeps getting better with repeated viewings.

As most reviewers have said, this is by far the most satisfying Potter film thus far as a cinematic experience. Being an iconclast I haven’t read any of the books (he said proudly and defiantly), so my knowledge and relationship with the magical Potter world is strictly through the movies, and owning both DVDs and having a 5 year-old, I have seen the first two many times and am very familiar with that world.

As I undertand it, the first two, directed by Chris Columbus, were much more literal in their presentation of the books, and this showed in the clunkishness of the pacing and rather creaky plot points, and as a result both films broke down toward the end. I never cared all that much about the plots in the first two anyway – which is not a great sign – but did revel in the relationships, the overall atmosphere of magical possibility, and the palpable sense that a world parallel to, and intersecting with ours isn’t such an implausible notion.

In fact, with the knowledge that the first two Potters are in the top ten of all-time movie money-makers, and all the books are multi-million sellers, the world of Potter is attaining the power of myth. Perhaps when enough people believe in something, it generates some kind of phychic reality of its own: like the Tolkien world, or to a nonbeliever, perhaps even religion. Is something not “real” just because it was first summoned from the imagination?

Anyway, while I agree that Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron’s (Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Little Princess, Great Expectations) is the most satisfying film in the series thus far, it’s important to recognize that Cuaron’s film is in essence a reaction to the first two films, and could not have been made as such without the first two films to react against.

And those reactions are quite literally magical: while Columbus’s Potter world is ultimately grounded in whimsy (and is in some ways flimsy), Cuaron’s is grounded in wonder, and his darker, more penetrating, magic-realist take on that world is simultaeously more “realistic” – it simply feels more tangible, more fleshed out – AND more fantastical: it sort of engulfs the Columbus world from both sides.

But without the exposition, the character definition, the relationship building established by Columbus, Cuaron’s film would neither make much sense (much is done in shorthand) nor be very inviting (why would the students and teachers all so clearly love a place as forbidding and mysterious as Hogwarts, or, more broadly, even their broader, dangerous magical world?).

Having defended the often-maligned Columbus, allow me to now say that Cuaron exceeds him in every way: the cinematography is stunning in its Lord of the Rings-like vistas, palpable natural forces (especially water: lakes, rain, mist, even tears), the reenvisioning of Hogwarts as a blend of the Emerald City and the witch’s castle from The Wizard of Oz (the living paintings are especially effective).

The characters all feel much more substantial and the acting is exceptional all around, especially David Thewlis as the supportive-but-troubled Professor Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher whose personal knowledge of same is underscored with poignancy.

The kids are exceptional: Emma Watson’s lovely, assertive Hermione has been getting most of the critical attention, but Rupert Grint’s Ron has grown into a much more substantive figure, and Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry is literally the foundation of the film and the series, and he handles the complicated emotions of early teenhood deftly and without visible effort – he IS Harry Potter and has grown markedly as an actor: unlike the first two films, there isn’t one line in Azkaban that sounds rote or feels like acting as opposed to embodying.

John Williams’s music for Azkaban reaches new levels of depth and meaning, beautifully commenting upon and supporting the action and moods on the screen.

Finally, the sequence of action that ties together all the loose ends of the story goes beyond clever and seamless into the thought-provoking and brilliant, literally and philosophically providing an alternative perspective on the action and assumptions of the first 2/3 of the story. I recommend Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban without a single reservation.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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